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THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO FINAL ADDRESS

Dictum

My Lords, I had the opportunity of addressing this type of anomaly in Kalu v. State (2017) LPELR – 42101 (SC). Speaking for this Court, I held that: “… it is undeniable that Section 294 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consecrates the right to final addresses, Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy [1985] 2 NWLR (pt 8) 547; Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State [1987] 2 NWLR (pt 58) 539; Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (1991) LPELR – 1463 (SC) 31- 32; F-A; Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR – 2436 (SC) 19 -20; F-A. The said expression ‘final addresses’ means the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of the matter before it, before the delivery of the judgment. Put simply, it is the last address before the delivery of the judgment, Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy (supra); Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (supra); Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (supra); Okeke v. State (supra). It [final address] is the penultimate part of the three most important portions of the trial period; the first, being the hearing of the evidence; while the last is the judgement, Okeke v. State(2003) LPELR -2436 (SC) 19 -20; F-A. Such is its pedestal in the administration of justice that when counsel or a party is denied this right [that is, of address], the trial Court is, equally, deprived of its enormous benefits. Its inevitable consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has been occasioned, Okafor and Ors v. A.G., Anambra and Ors (1991) LPELR -2414 (SC) 28; A-C; Obodo v. Olomu [1987] 3 NWLR (pt.59) 111; Adigun v. A-G of Oyo State (supra). This explains why a party must have the same right as given to his adversary to offer, by his counsel, the final address on the law in support of his case, Ndukauba v. Kolomo and Anor (2005) LPELR -1976 (SC) 12; A-D. It would thus seem obvious that, the draftsperson of this section [Section 294] had in mind the eloquent views of a distinguished American Jurist, Dillon, who observed in his Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America that: “I feel reasonably assured of my judgment where I have heard counsel, and a very diminished faith where the case has not been orally argued, for mistakes, errors, fallacies and flaws elude us in spite of ourselves unless the case is pounded and hammered at the Bar…” [Italics supplied for emphasis] Now, prior to the evolution of brief writing in various Rules of our Courts, counsel, actually, ‘pounded and hammered [their arguments] at the Bar.’ In place of that practice which has now fallen into desuetude, one of the new features introduced by these rules is the concept of advocacy in writing, that is, brief writing, whose main purpose is to curtail the time that should have been wasted in lengthy oral arguments, Onifade v. Olayiwola and Ors (1990) 7 NWLR (pt 161) 130, 160: oral arguments in which verbose counsel beat out the bush, Omojasola v. Plison Fisko Nig.Ltd and Ors (1990) 5 NWLR (Pt 151) 434, 441. Thus, although oratorical prowess was previously a great asset in advocacy, due to the great changes which have been wrought in the Court rules, proficiency in the presentation of briefs has taken the place of brilliancy in oral advocacy, Gaamstac Eng. Ltd and Anor v. FCDA (1988) 4 NWLR (pt 88) 296, 305-306. [per Nweze, JSC in Kalu v. State (supra) 9 et seq].

— Chima Centus Nweze, JSC. State v. Andrew Yanga (SC.712/2018, 15 Jan 2021)

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THE RIGHT TO FINAL ADDRESS IS PROTECTED BY THE CONSTITUTION

Now, it is undeniable that Section 294 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consecrates the right to final addresses. Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy [1985] 2 NWLR (pt 8) 547; Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 58) 539; Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd. (1991) LPELR 1463 (SC) 31-32; F-A; Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR-2436 (SC) 19-20; F-A. The said expression “final addresses” means the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of the matter before it, before the delivery of the judgment. Put simply, it is the last address before the delivery of the judgment. Sodipo v. Leminkainen Oy (supra); Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (supra); Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (supra); Okeke v. State (supra). It [final address] is the penultimate part of the three most important portions of the trial period; the first, being the hearing of the evidence; while the last is the judgment, Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR-2436 (SC) 19-20; F-A. Such is its pedestal in the administration of justice that when counsel or a party is denied this right [that is, of address], the trial Court is equally deprived of its enormous benefits. Its inevitable consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has been occasioned. Okafor and Ors v. A.G., Anambra and Ors (1991) LPELR-2414 (SC) 28; A-C; Obodo v. Olomu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt. 59) 111; Adigun v. A-G of Oyo State (supra). This explains why a party must have the same right as given to his adversary to offer, by his counsel, the final address on the law in support of his case. Ndukauba v. Kolomo and Anor (2005) LPELR-1976 (SC) 12; A-D. It would thus seem obvious that the draftsperson of this section [Section 294] had in mind the eloquent views of a distinguished American Jurist, Dillon, who observed in his Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America that; “I feel reasonably assured of my judgment where I have heard counsel, and a very diminished faith where the case has not been orally argued, for mistakes, errors, fallacies and flaws elude us in Spite of ourselves unless the case is pounded and hammered at the Bar…”

— C.C. Nweze JSC. Onuwa Kalu v. The State (SC.474/2011, 13 Apr 2017)

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CASES ARE NOT DECIDED ON FINAL ADDRESSES BUT ON EVIDENCE – FINAL ADDRESS MERELY ASSIST THE COURT

In the case of Michika Local Government vs. National Population commission (1998) 11 NWLR Part 573 page 201, decided by the Court of Appeal (Jos Division), the question for determination was inter alia: Whether the failure of the Census Tribunal to call on the appellant’s Counsel to address the Tribunal before delivering its judgment, amounted to a breach of fair hearing. The Court of Appeal, per Edozie, J.C.A. had this to say at page 212 paragraphs E – G and ratio 5. “On Relevance of addresses of Counsel, addresses of counsel are designed to assist the court. Cases are normally not decided on addresses but on credible evidence. Thus, no amount of brilliance in a final address can make up for the lack of evidence to prove and establish or to disprove and demolish points in issue. When, therefore, facts are straight forward and in the main not in dispute, the trial court could be free to dispense with final address. In the instant case, no miscarriage of justice was occasioned as the respondent did not address the tribunal. Also, the factual issue before the tribunal can be effectually determined without addresses of counsel. The appellant’s complaint about denial of fair hearing is not well founded.”

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FINAL ADDRESS CANNOT FILL THE PLACE OF EVIDENCE

That counsel in the guise of final address or brief of argument cannot lead evidence to fill any lacuna in his client’s case. He is not permitted to do so … Final addresses, no matter how brilliantly they are couched cannot constitute evidence and they are not intended to be so: NWADAIRO v. SPDC (1990) 5 NWLR (pt.150) 322 at 339; ODUBEKO v. FOWLER (1993) 1 NWLR (pt. 308) 637; ISHOLA v. AJIBOYE (1998) 1 NWLR (pt. 532) 71 at 93 ARO v. ARO (2000) 14 WRN 51 at 56.

— E. Eko, JSC. Lawali v State (2019) – SC.272/2017

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WHEN DELIBERATION HAS ALREADY BEGUN, ADDRESSES BY COUNSEL ARE NOT FINAL ADDRESS

An invitation by the court to address it on points raised by the court during the deliberation or consideration of the judgment does not, in my view, come within the contemplation of evidence and final addresses in section 258(1) of the 1979 Constitution.

— Obaseki, JSC. Odi v Osafile (1985) – SC.144/1983

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FAILURE TO FILE A FINAL ADDRESS IS NOT FATAL

In Ndu vs. The State (1990) Part 164 page 550, the Supreme Court held that: “The right of address given to a party or his counsel does not confer on him the right to do so at his pleasure. A party or counsel may forget or be taken to waive his right of address if he fails to address when called upon by the Court to do so at the close of evidence. It was further held that there are however occasions when addresses from Counsel are a matter of formality. They may not diminish or add to the strength or weakness in a party’s case. The facts and the law applicable in such cases speak loudly for themselves to require address.”

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FINAL ADDRESS CANNOT MAKE UP FOR LACK OF EVIDENCE

It is not clear to me why the above submission of senior counsel to the respondent has come up. There is no evidence on record that Russal of Russia has taken possession of ALSCON and now fully operates it. Such forms part of address which is ordinarily designed to assist the court. It is not evidence and no fine speech in an address can make up for lack of evidence to prove or establish a fact or else disprove and demolish a point in issue. See: Niger construction Ltd. v. Okugbeni (1987) 4 NWLR (pt. 67) 738 at page 792.

— J.A. Fabiyi, JSC. BFI v. Bureau PE (2012) – SC.12/2008

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